It’s not quite like dancing. But no matter who you are…or what kind of shoes you wear…presenting with a partner adds a layer of complication that you don’t have when you just stand up and speak by yourself.

You don’t have to do it backward, but you may have to be fast on your feet when you coordinate with another speaker, even someone with whom you’re reasonably compatible.

You have more control when you’re the only one in the spotlight.

Yet we often want to share the front of the room. And sometimes our business demands it whether we want it or not. We’re part of a pitch team, perhaps. Our audience needs information outside of our personal expertise. Or the client asks to hear from more than one person.

Independent professionals can do well by teaming up with someone whose work is related, but their client list is not. That gives each speaker a chance to connect with the other one’s tribe to generate new business.

And for some of us, putting on an event or doing a talk is just more fun when it’s a shared experience.

How to handle the two-person presentation? And what if there’s a team talking? Here are some things to think about when you’re pairing up.

Pluses in Partnerships

  • Your audience can benefit from multiple points of view. To-may-to, to-mah-to…they get to hear both.
  • You know a lot, of course. But when you have a partner, there’s twice as much expertise and wisdom to share with your listeners. They can learn more.
  • A couple (or more) different voices and speaking styles make the whole experience more engaging. Attention spans are famously getting shorter all the time, so anything that captures and keeps attention is welcome.
  • If you’re lucky, you can share the work of preparation. That means you can spend less of your own time and energy on research, writing and creating visual aids.

So, there are some definite advantages to working with someone else when you’re presenting. Of course, there are also…

Pitfalls in Partnerships

    • Egos can get in the way. People who enjoy being in the spotlight might not readily share it. You’ve probably seen a speaking partnership that looked a lot like a competition.
    • Timing is tricky. It’s hard enough for some speakers to confine themselves to the allotted time when they’re alone. Add another presenter, and it can become a challenge to manage the clock.
    • The audience pays as much attention to how you relate as to what you say. If you talk over or interrupt each other, or if one of you speaks much more than the other, you demonstrate disrespect. That cues your audience to disrespect you too.

They’ll pick up on any sign of disagreement or indifference—eye-rolling, yawning, even turning the body away from where your partner’s speaking. That means the person who is not talking at any given moment is as important as the one who is. You’re both “on” all the time.

There’s a lot to think about when it comes to presenting as a team, isn’t there? Fortunately, there are also some ways to …

Play up the Pluses

    • It pays to pair up with someone you like. (Shout-out to Kelly Joy Simmons and Lisa Kaplin – I’ve put on programs with both of them and they were a blast.)
    • Be crystal clear about who’s doing what, when. Is one of you going to speak for some time and then turn it over to the other? Are you both speaking together, as in a conversation? When one of you is talking, will the other one stay silent or even leave the front of the room? Or will the one who’s not “on” at the moment interject comments or questions?

Any arrangement is okay. The key is to make one so you’re not winging it in front of your audience and getting on each other’s last nerve.

  • Decide who opens and closes the presentation, who gives directions or distributes handouts. Anything you’d do if you were speaking solo will still need to be done when it’s a team effort—it should all be coordinated so you’re not stumbling over each other.
  • If your audience doesn’t know you, consider introducing each other. So much easier for you to say glowing things about your partner (and vice versa) than to brag about your own accomplishments and expertise.
  • How will you shift from one speaker to another? Plan for the transitions and rehearse them. You don’t want the bridge between you to sound sloppy. 
  • Talk about tone. People describe mine as conversational, engaging, interactive, often funny. I’m comfortable with improv; I think sometimes the best moments of a talk are responses to what happens in the moment. That works well for me, but it’s not right for everyone.

Some speakers are more serious or even formal. Some stick more closely to a script. I know speakers who avoid questions from the audience or schedule them carefully at the end of the presentation. Interaction is not their thing.

Understand the tone you strike when you speak. (If you’re not sure, ask people who’ve heard you do a talk.) And when you work with partners, make sure you’re compatible. Not necessary to be identical, but you don’t want the audience to focus on jarring differences either.

With a little bit of planning and a fair amount of good will, presenting with a partner can be a great experience for both of you…and for the audience too.

You may have run into trouble in a two-person talk? Or you’ve found the key to compatibility with other speakers.

Post a comment below and share your experience.